One of the things I learned about in the Personal Essay class I took earlier this year was the process of submitting my work for magazines, anthologies, contests, websites and other publications that accept personal essays. Our teacher explained that we should have a plan in place for the day a rejection comes in. In other words, as soon as one piece is rejected, we should already know where we want it to go next and get it in the mail immediately.
This is all still new to me, and for the moment I am working with a small number of finished pieces, but I have put my teacher’s advice into practice and am starting to develop my own small database of statistics. My spreadsheet shows which essay has been sent where, what the end result was and where everything is at any given time. I've submitted to magazines, essay contests, anthologies and websites. I've been published, I've been rejected, and I've received my first check for a published piece of writing. In other words, I've officially begun my journey as a writer, reached a couple of milestones, and see very clearly the wide open expanse before me. Some days that feels overwhelming, other days thrilling, but most of the time I try to stay right where I am.
Structuring my life around writing is still something I am figuring out, and I feel like a toddler just beginning to learn how to write her own name. I have, of course, set big goals for myself, which involve nothing less than my byline in The New Yorker, Sun magazine and the Modern Love column of The New York Times. Oh, right, and another book that someday ranks up there with May Sarton and Anne Lamott and enables me to participate in a book panel discussion with Elizabeth Gilbert and Dave Eggers.
So there you have it. My Big Dream List For What I’d Like To Accomplish As A Writer.
But as I said, I still feel like a toddler, and know it is going to take some time before The New Yorker comes calling and I’m sharing café au laits with Ms. Gilbert. More importantly, none of my big bold dreams might ever come to fruition, and then what am I to do with myself? As Nemo might say, “Just keep writing, just keep writing…”
I realized this weekend that I need to remember how precious this time is, this time as a toddler writer just beginning to find my way and figure out how to get where I want to go. There are so many steps between where I am now and all those big sparkly dreams, and I have to take special care of this little bud inside of me that has only begun to blossom. The New Yorker will always be there, and every rejection I receive is validation that I’m writing, I’m putting it out there, I’m doing the work writers do.
I also need to carefully manage the pressure I put on myself to submit, submit, submit. My goal for this summer is to create a beautiful book proposal, and maybe right now that means I don’t worry about where these essays of mine will go next. Maybe they need to take a summer hiatus until my proposal is on its way. Goals are good and deadlines motivate me, but too many at one time can muddy up the waters.
My mission, more than anything, is to become a good writer, and that has to be the foundation of everything I do as a writer. That has to be the driving force behind writing, editing, mailing out, getting published, and getting rejected. That is the part that needs to remain precious rather than the pursuit of lines on my resume and publishing contracts. Without that, my List of Big Dreams is hollow. Without that, it’s all for ego.